Last year I didn't sign up for the Ragnarok. I can't really tell you why. This race means a lot to me. My family has been in the area this course goes through for over a century and most of them still do live in Red Wing. That aside, any of the original gravel races from the "almanzo gravel series"... well, they are what got me interested in bike racing. I rode them when it was a challenge to finish, when it was a challenge to try to compete, when it was a challenge just to survive (the year of the rain/cold). It's still a huge challenge, but I came to the ragnarok this year to try to win.
I think I've had good legs all spring. No wins, but all close misses since fatbike season.
CIRREM is a great first race of the year. It was very fast this year with beautiful weather. I may have had an advantage to press with 4 or 5 miles to go, but tried to play it safe and got beat in a mis-timed sprint effort. I left feeling pretty good about the day, but frustrated with 3rd. I've done CIRREM a ton of times now and am piling up the top 5s with no wins there. Maybe it's better that way with it being so early, but someday I would like to win!
Testing the legs a bit at CIRREM
I then did a couple of Iowa mixed road races. I was third in Hills and won a bunch sprint. Fresh legs right to the end, but no strategic way to use them other than what I did. Still a great training ride and fun. It was good to see my friend Jason win and I was happy that one of us not from the local team, with 7 guys in the race, was able to take it. The Crushed Rock Classic was a new event this year. Fun course with a mixture of gravel, a bit of road and some CX style grass/mud even. I was strong but tentative and wound up second.
This was a pretty ridiculous chase group that formed in the Crushed Rock Classic
On to the Ragnarok and the first 'goal' race of the year. I had an idea of how the race would likely unfold going into it. The first 85 miles are all about conserving energy and then a group of 2-4 would likely form over the top of Heath's Hill which would break up further over the second to last climb OR come down to a sprint on the final ramp. I am racing a bit heavier these days (Dad bod?) and knew that a sprint up that final ramp was not for me. Anyone who would be able to stay with me to that point was likely to beat me on that pitch!
Conserving energy early
This is a great shot of what the Ragnarok is all about!
The pace early was pretty ridiculous. I wasn't in danger of being dropped until we got to the largest hills around mile 55, but I sure wanted to ride slower! I was expecting a bit more gentlemanly pace and a chance to pee and remove my jacket. Next time I won't wear a skinsuit under a wool jersey and will NOT start in a jacket. The combination meant no rolling pee and little access to any food, which was compounded by frozen bottles. In the end I wound up only consuming about 250 calories and 40 oz of water throughout the entire race. Thankfully my wife was at checkpoint two though! I only got one big sip of cranberry/cherry soda and a wish of good luck! but that helped me immensely on the last 25 miles.
The group dropped me on the large back to back hills, but I kept the gap reasonable and essentially coasted back on going downhill. Jesse had flatted on that same climb. When I caught back on the group really slowed and we finally did tentatively stop and pee. This let me safely get my jacket off, let Jesse back on and probably really influenced the outcome of the race. From that point on I felt the momentum shifting and was no longer hanging on.
Heath's Hill comes up at mile 85 or so. I still had it fresh in my mind getting dropped on the large hills earlier and reflexively went to the front and started riding my own tempo. I had to be sure to be in contact over the top. It's a technical climb that takes about 8 minutes from top to bottom. Throughout you have to look ahead and pick good lines while also putting down decent power. Things started getting quieter and quieter. The silence started to feed my desire to push a little harder and in turn it got quieter. I wasn't able to match my own KOM time on the climb, but I did put between 20 seconds and 2 minutes on the remainder of the group. After the quick pavement descent the course turns downwind and begins a much longer/gradual climb (perhaps a better launch pad for an attack from someone with my skills). I was caught by Jesse and Sam E. as we turned onto that gradual climb. I was Ok with that thinking that the 3 of us would be able to put time into the others and that was better than the big group had been. However, it became apparent that neither of them were in a condition to make any pulls. I slipped away as it started to go up and rode tempo the remaining 15 miles in!
It felt really good not to have to sprint on that final ramp.
I'm sure Jesse had used up a lot of his energy chasing on after the flat. It would have been interesting to see how much more I had in the tank had I been pushed late. I've been riding all week, but I'm STILL tired from the effort, no doubt.
LML has been moved to this weekend due to bad weather 3 weeks ago. I think that maybe took a little bit of the luster off of it. After all, Ragnarok was the "goal" in this early part of the year, but LML was supposed to set up as an important tune-up. Now it's the beginning of the next chapter which ends with Almanzo. Meanwhile, the crit season has also started. Gravel and crits complement each other better than most realize if you ask me.
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